The worm turns on the BDS crowd

I never met intellectual backers of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement – so I went to listen to complaints of suppression of their "right to boycott" at a panel discussion held the other day at NYU.

Their tales boiled down to "lawfare" sponsored by Israel-supporters – legislation to deny state contracts to businesses supportive of BDS and lawsuits directed at individual academic activists, aimed at removing them from their academic positions.

As I listened, it became clear to me that the multitude of problems caused by those lawsuits to activist professors, who were mostly from the American Studies Association (which voted to engage in BDS), including the need to hide their "true feelings" in written communications; receiving sidelong glances from colleagues; fear of being branded as anti-Semites and, worse, being sued; getting the cold shoulder from administrations unwilling to risk the ire of donors and trustees for promoting BDS-engaged professors; loss of jobs – boiled down to one word: boycott of BDSers.

This is what I asked about during Q&A: why be indignant?  As supporters of boycotts, why not accept as fair boycotts directed at themselves, unpleasant as they undoubtedly are?

Interestingly, that perspective took the panel aback – they had apparently never thought they were simply being paid back in their own coin.  The answer – from Maria LaHood, a lawyer defending one of the professors – was predictably dripping with self-righteousness: boycott of Israel is about Palestinians' human rights, thus serving a higher purpose, while boycotts against promoters of BDS is countering this great goal.

The other presentations were equally self-contradictory.  Rutgers professor Jasbir Puar argued that in her view, any nation-state is no good, hence she cannot possibly be accused of anti-Semitism or even anti-Israelism since Israel, as a nation-state, is anyway an illegitimate aberration, as is France, or Germany, or, for that matter, the U.S.  The obvious question is – why, then, get so worked up about "Palestine" – which, if it comes into being, would be yet another nation-state, illegitimate by its very nature?

Or how about the introduction by the panel's organizer, NYU's American studies professor Andrew Ross, who reminded those present that the panel was taking place on occupied "native" territory?  It apparently did not occur to him to see Arab conquest, which started after Mohammed's death and spread Islam from the border of India to that of France as a colonial enterprise – the very instance of colonialism he decries when he talks of Europeans in the Americas, else he should have supported Israel as an instance of reversal of colonialism, rather than decrying it, as he did in his introduction, as its flagrant instance.